Back to Posts

Brouhaha, Baby Back Ribs & Big Trees

Posted in Vanagon, Road Trip

So… we departed.

First home of the trip: Squamish River

We rolled right on out of town in early May, and drove north, diving directly into the forest along the Squamish river to revel in a bit of pre-USA Canadian camaraderie in celebration of a few friends’ birthdays (including Ariella’s).

Squamish River Valley Sunset

Highlights from this included the most impressive Wynnian parachute shelter imaginable (some of you will undoubtedly know of what I speak), a selection of fine food and drink and fellows and fires, esophagus-shredding jalapeño poppers, Jalapeño popper 1, Dani ZERO. and (most memorable to myself) a buffet of jello cocktail shots courtesy of a mixology-minded Owle that quite literally caused me to engage in a 2am flying somersault off of the edge of an 8’ beach embankment. Somewhat fortunately, my overall noodlish state likely contributed to more grace in flight than would have been possible in a less tilted condition, resulting in almost no pain upon landing.

Silly Group Shot [ Shot courtesy of Luke.Me.Up ]

Mountainous Muahahahahaaaaa

Emphasis on “upon landing”. The following day was surely created to remind me of my own mortality, the tutelage meted out by at least three dozen separate and profound agonies.

But, fortunately, no lasting damage. Thus is (usually) my luck.

Into the Republic

Following the epic Squamish sendoff, we spent one further night in Vancouver with C&A, who graciously extended a mattress to help us get the final bits of preflight staging off of the ground… including dealing with a hiccup in one of the prophylactic repairs we had performed prior to our departure.

You see, Vanagons are notorious for turning into fireballs when their fuel systems spring a leak, dousing gasoline onto hot engine parts, and in some cases incinerating said Vanagon.

Vanagon Kaboom

[ ^^^ Fortunately not our van! ]

Fortunately, ours has a 2010 Subaru Engine instead of the old flammable and generally timorous and feeble VW Waterboxer, so we’re largely insulated from such incendiary mishap, but the 23-year-old gas tank and associated hoses, seals, etc. did need some TLC to totally close the book on that particular hazard. So, prior to our Squamish jaunt, we had the tank, hoses, expansion tanks, and fuel pump replaced with all-new stuff. As well as some minor coolant plumbing repairs.

Sadly, on the way back from Squamish, the afternoon before officially diving into the big republic that lies across our southern border, both Ariella and I noticed that there was a new, rather unpleasant whirring/grinding/bubbling noise in our van. A small bit of online reasearch on The Samba (a VW van forum that you’re pretty much obligated to join if you own a VW Van, if for no other reason than deciphering the inevitable mechanical esoterical) revealed that this could be a nasty pump cavitation issue when an ever-so-slightly-wrong fuel tank is installed, and the only cure is a new fuel tank.

Long story short, it turned out to not be quite as bad as all that (in the end it was a shoddy pump-mounting job coupled with new pumps just not being as nice as the old pumps, and generally somewhat noisier), and we were on the road in short order towards the border.

The Guardians At The Gate

I won’t belabor this bit too much than to state the following:

  • If you drive a Westfalia, in my not-inconsiderable experience, you’re like catnip to customs agents (if those customs agents were cats, that is).

  • If you have a daisy in a makeshift vase in your dashboard, which you placed there for the pleasure of your lovely spouse, said cats, drunk on said catnip, will write you up for bringing in contraband, and send you over to the “we’re going to search your vehicle” department with the inspection slip stamped BIOLOGICALS.

  • Customs agents are humourless (particularly if you’re not Caucasian — oh, the things we saw…), but will generally take a shine to you if you know a thing or two about bushcraft knives (and have a fairly big one in the glovebox). It was touch and go until they found the big knife, but from there on in I reckon they felt like they could better relate to us.

  • Shortly after finally clearing customs, I bought an impressive looking little axe to further explore this apparent blade-induced-customs-kinship phenomenon. Will test and report back in the future.


  • When stuck in a coercive and manipulative customs interview, get your baby to do squats on the customs counters. It visibly unnerves them (the agents) in the most wonderful way, and is oddly soothing as a result.

Too much, too much, you took too much…

Too Much

After setting rubber to road in Washington State, we breathed a collective sigh of relief (I suspect that Ivan may have pooped a little in-lieu of a genuine sigh), and rolled south. After a few stops for additional supplies, we rapidly came to the conclusion that we were literlly swimming in variegated crap, and badly needed to buy some extra space.

Which we literally did, in the form of a rear cargo platform that’s since hung off the arse-end of the van, and which allows us to migrate the stroller, one of the coolers (yes, we have two now—a situation which sorely requires a remedy), and various other bits and bobs of ballast out of the main compartment of the van (where the humans go), rendering that space at least partially habitable.

By gnomes, or other diminutive miscreants maybe.

After the fun adventures with pumps and customs and cargo hardware installation in Walmart parking lots, we decided to do the only sane thing: scrap our camping plans for the night, and check into a motel 6 and get drunk.

Mount Ranier is a mountain.

Neither of us are quite sure what exactly we thought Mount Ranier actually was, but for some reason unbeknownst to us, when we drove there for a bit of camping, and found ourselves rapidly ascending a big bloody mountain, we were all rather surprised.

That’s right friends and neighbours — a mountain in more than name alone.

Verrrrry mountainey!

Anyways, it’s a very striking mountain, and apparently a fairly hostile one, as we keep encountering news reports of it murdering more people (first a group of climbers, and then a travel writer, both after we visited). Fortunately for us we’re no mountaineers at the best of times, so the most danger we encountered was the rather grim cafe at the (lovely, but without electricity) visitor’s centre, from which we narrowly escaped unscathed.


Ranier Parking Lot

After exploring for a bit, we descended again, and proceeded to eat absurdly large hamburgers at a rather run down little cafe in the wee town of Elbe, WA (pop. 29) that boasted ‘best hamburgers in (insert grossly exaggerated radius here)’. They were good in the way that primarily makes you count your lucky stars for having a stout constitution and not winding up with a coronary thrombosis on the spot.

Elbe is a strange little place, seemingly composed entirely of roadside restaurants, with one exception: the ‘Hobo Inn’, a motel where you get to stay in one of several old train cars, arranged in an odd, roadside train yard.


Ivan liked the weird train-zone so much he goobered a whole bunch.


Chicken and waffles and Heppi Gurfnoys, Devit: Once more unto the glut.

So it seems that Portland pretty much functions on the basis of a profound gravitational force generated by an odd combination of ubiquity, deliciousness, and cheapness, piled higher with more ubiquity and deliciousness.

Westy Hoedown

Everything there tastes amazing, is exceedingly (…hella, even…) cheap, and is brought to you on a puzzling conveyor of neverending twee charm and stoner doom metal.

Every day starts off in some kind of earnest bid to wander around, get some exercise, and then go swallow a couple of salads, maybe lay off of the beers, get to bed early, and generally be a restrained human being, but then Portland takes a few steps back, opens up the glut cabinet, spools out a few feet of the glut hose, points the glut nozzle into your face, and languidly draws its knee up and kicks open the glut valve, dousing you with another inescapable torrent of slick, sumptuous, aromatic glut.

Similarly, all attempts to depart the city limits find you suddenly laden so heavy with saddlebags full of artisinal banana cream pies, micro-kegs of probiotically hyperactive kombucha, and enough stickers to patch up the deepwater horizon rig spill from a few years back, that you simply can no longer move, and cease all designs on ever leaving.

Thus it was with us — after more than three weeks (we were supposed to be there for 10 days, we had to take refuge in a decidedly un-twee Motel 6, and briskly run for cover to the coast once the Portland beardo brandishing the hose gave up looking for us for a brief moment to lustily swill back another invigorating and wondrous pint of microbrew from one of the beer hydrants that line the streets.

The escape was not without injury, however; Ariella, letting her guard down, was made delirious by the scent of a passing waffle truck, sent to lure us out of hiding, and proceded to attack herself with the Motel 6 luggage rack in order to regain her composure, causing swift and painful hematoma around her ocular cavity.

Self-attack with luggage rack

Grizz’ didn’t mind our brief bivouac at the M’6, fortunately.

Griztel 6

In more prosaic matters, we had a number of guests visit us while we were renting a rather underpriced and domestically overachieving domicile in the Northeastern quadrant of town: namely Ariella’s Mom, Wilma…


…and my Pal Deluxe D…

Monsieur D vs. Beaterville

…and our good pals Nat’li and Devit (the mom trip and the pals trip did not, sadly, overlap), all of with whom we had a grand ol’ tyme. Of note, it was Devit’s Gurfnoy (birthday)…


…which led to a not unlarge modicum of brouhaha…

Animaux Gurfnoys _DSF4289.jpg _DSF4306.jpg

While in Portland, we ate the best ribs I’ve ever had the pleasure of inhaling at Podnah’s Pit, slurped up the best whiskey I’ve ever tasted at the Old Gold, nearly got eaten alive by an enormous wallopotomus, got utterly beaten by a Metallica pinball machine, and were lucky enough to meet some stacking canids.



As if the stacking canids were not enough, we also met a stacked hominid.

"He took a duck in the face at two hundred and fifty knots"

Yeah, that’s Fabio. You’re not imagining things.

As soon as that encounter sprung itself upon us, we knew incontrovertibly that it was time to leave Portland. So, with great effort and resolve, we did.

Way too much wood.

Not of a mind to screw around with half-measures after living for so long with under the rallying cry of “Nothing exceeds like excess!” in the heady cholesterol melstrom of Portlandia, we decided to get a solid nature fix, and go freebase some enormous softwood lumber.

After our escape, we drove out to the coast by way of Tillamook, where they have an enormous factory dedicated to manufacturing the copious quantities of cheese that the Burning Man festival burns as fuel. Hooking directly south from there, we followed the coast south, until reaching the quiet campsite of Beverly Beach, where they have a quite lovely pedestrian underpass from the campsite to the beach, and in typical Oregon fashion, a rather astonishingly beautiful beach, marred only by the vicious pique of the lashing coastal winds whose mission is to shatter any tropical illusions one might harbour upon hearing the word ‘beach’.


After some time, Grizz lashed a strange orange contraption around me, and climbed inside to escape from the wind, and from awakeness.

Orange Napwrap

He later revealed himself to be a budding pyromaniac.

Budding Pyromaniac

The following morning, hungover after a night of being saturated by tree flatulence, Grizz woke us early, and declared that he had reached a conclusion: we were to head further south to more arid, dune-covered climes, and seek respite in the sand.

Early Riser

A request which we obliged.


From whence we decided that it was high time to quit Oregon altogether, and head for a more Golden State.



We rapidly learned that California grows absolutely enormous vegetables.

Big Veggies

Can you spot the Grizzly?

Where's Grizzo?

After several days of neck injuries and other ailments sustained through the act of perpetually looking directly skyward (UFO abductees, I acutely sympathize…), we followed the path of the gold rush, and settled in for the night at Gold Bluffs Beach, where we were treated to a good show by the ol’ celestial fireball.

Gold Bluffs Sunset

The next morning, we tramped out of our campsite at the bluffs, and plunged into a primordial canyon (aptly named “Fern Canyon”) which felt eerily as if at any minute a herd of Brontosauruses would blitz through and render us into a fine paste.

Fern Canyon

Fern Canyon Botz

Hella Sacramental

Our next leg of the journey consisted primarily of cooking ourselves in service of a long-overdue visit to see the most hella awesome lady in Sacramento, Lindsey Lou. We’ve known Lindsey for a number of years now, ever since she accosted us with a megaphone in the middle of the night at Burning Man in 2007, and then adopted us and became our defacto ringleader for the duration of that year’s burn. We’ve always seen her out in the dustbowl of the Black Rock Desert, and it was high time to stage a meetup in a more hospitable climate.

Except a conspiracy to bake our flesh from our bones was afoot (ahem), and we encountered a shocking 30°C temperature rise from the coast (10°C) to Redding, CA (40°C), through which we were heading to Sacramento.


To beat the heat, we decided to take refuge in a Bigfoot museum.


Upon arriving in Sacramento, many antics ensued, but none as grand as drunkenly embedding ourselves into the rather redundantly named “American River”.


All-told, a short, but refreshing visit with an old, outstanding friend, where we were the recipients of both some astonishingly great hospitality, and some astonishingly great enchiladas made by her hombre, Will.


Next episode : The Bay and Beyond (coming soon!)

The chronicle of three mutants of varying size, and their adventures in Vroomhilde, the rolling Space Rhino.

Read Next

The Bay and Beyond

Read Previous

Preflight Mayhem